Get To vs. Have To: The employee’s dilemma

I’m writing this on a Sunday evening while watching playoff hockey waiting for Game of Thrones to start and trying to figure out why our dog has become endlessly fascinated by a piece of paper on an end table. In short, it’s a lovely evening and I’m happy that I get to do this.

I bring this up because as the weekend winds down, people are lamenting the fact that they “have to” go to work tomorrow. (Don’t believe me? Check your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feeds.) And thus we are confronted by the dichotomy all employees deal with at work – what they “get to do” vs. what they “have to do.”

“Have to” is all the work employees tend to complain about – answering emails, attending recurring meetings, data entry, making phones calls, paying invoices…all the tasks that fulfill the basic functions of their job descriptions.

“Get to” is the work that employees say they want – stretch goals, new projects, visibility, variety, excitement…all the things that a new and different from the day-to-day. swivel chair

In short, “have to” is the work we get paid for, “get to” is the work that engages us.

What’s interesting is how quickly the “get to” turns into “have to” for so many employees. What was once new and exciting gets absorbed into the background as just another thing you work on in your job.

This phenomenon is known as the hedonic treadmill (or hedonic adaptation, if you must be specific) and refers to our singular ability to return to a relative level of happiness (or unhappiness) following a positive or negative event in our lives. Basically, if you’re a happy person, you’ll still be a happy person even after undergoing a setback. But if you’re a negative person, you’ll still be a negative person even if you win the lottery.

Let’s apply this to work. If you (generally) like your job, the “have to” doesn’t bring you down too much. The “get to” is a nice perk, but you don’t really need it because you’re already in a good place.  Chances are, you’re probably more engaged (or at least satisfied – NOT THE SAME THING) than the average person. If you (generally) chafe against your job, the “get to” won’t be enough to change your tune.

So if you are more of a Grumpy Cat than an Oprah (The Secret), how do you maximize the “get to” moments at work?

  • Keep your eye on the prize: Work will feel less “have to” if you find ways to help you reach your long term goals. Working an office day job but really want to be an agent? Look at your internal relationship building as honing your networking skills.
  • Take control of your “have to”: Be efficient and work your way through your “have to” list every day so it doesn’t weigh on you. Talk to your boss about restructuring your “have to” if you’re approaching burnout. One of the reasons “have to” brings us down is because we don’t have control over it. Try to get some.
  • Think of the “get to” as a reward, not a right: Remember, “get to” is development and growth. It’s not something that you should take for granted or sit back and wait for it to come to you. Be proactive and ask for the “get to”. Now it’s something you’ve earned, which can extend your happiness about the “get to.”
  • Check your attitude: Granted, people will land somewhere on the spectrum between Pippi Longstocking and Chicken Little, and it’s okay to know who you are. But if you find yourself unable to appreciate the “get to” in your life, find out why. Maybe you need more sleep, maybe you need some perspective, maybe you need therapy. Whatever it is, figure it out.

The reality is that the “have to” work will never ever go away. The trick is to find enough “get to” work to keep it interesting.

And try to have a good week, everyone!



You’re worth it (accept it and move on)

You see the message everywhere in marketing:

“You deserve a break today…” (McDonald’s)

“You’ve earned it! Take a cruise…” (Norwegian Cruises)

“Because you’re worth it…” (L’Oreal)

We are continually inundated with assurances that we are amazing, we are hard working, we are entitled to some pampering and rewards.

And yet.

There are leaders out there who can’t believe they’ve reach their current level and are just waiting for someone to realize they don’t know what they’re doing.

There are employees out there who go to a job they hate every single day because they think they’re trapped and have no other options.

All too often we get in our own way.  We assume we don’t have the skills to do something different.  We think we’re selling out if we go for that higher level of job with a better salary or work/life balance.  We can’t understand why anyone would want to promote us, and we don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to put us in charge of that project.

We get sucked into a belief system – the belief that we are trapped by skills, ambition, lifestyle.  That we AREN’T good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people DON’T like us.


I’m here to tell you that your belief system might be broken.

It’s okay to want that promotion you earned.

It’s okay to listen to people when they say you’ve got mad skillz and know what you’re doing.

It’s okay to realize that you aren’t in the right job at the right time and to have a plan to try something new.

It’s okay to NOT try something new, and decide that your job isn’t your everything and that you just need to find a hobby that makes you happy. (So says Laurie Ruettimann…and she’s pretty smart.)

The point is – don’t let the reasons you struggle be based on your belief that you don’t deserve it.

If you’ve worked hard, have half a brain, gained self-awareness, whatever it is – you’re worth it.

You DO deserve a break today, so give yourself one.  Remove those obstacles in your head and get to working on the real ones you face.

You’re worth it.

Tell your inner two-year-old to shut it

There’s a reason they call it the “terrible twos.”

Tantrums. Stubbornness. Attitude. Diapers (probably). And every parent’s favorite word….


Don’t believe me?  Watch this. Then go hug a parent of a toddler. They deserve it.

It’s kind of cute to watch a little kid try to exert some control over their world by saying no to every suggestion. It’s not so cute when it’s an adult in the workplace.  You’ve seen them – heck, you’ve probably even been one.  Goodness knows I have.  The scenario may change, but the process is pretty consistent:

  • Step One: Person A elicits heavy sigh.
  • Step Two: Person B asks what’s wrong.
  • Step Three: Person A unleashes a barrage of complaints, usually including righteous indignation about events that happened years ago.
  • Step Four: Person B makes suggestions about how Person A might resolve their issues.
  • Step Five: Person A’s inner two-year-old says NO. Cycle repeats.

angrytoddlerThe reasons that Person A relinquishes control to the inner two-year-old can vary.  Maybe it’s fear of change. Maybe it’s love of the attention being a martyr gives them. Heck, maybe it’s a passive-aggressive attempt to exert control in a situation that feels like it’s spiraling OUT of control.

Whatever the reason, the more we listen to the voice of that inner two-year-old, the louder that voice becomes, and that can lead to bad things. It’s exhausting to deal with someone else’s refusal to listen to solutions. At some point, Person B will stop talking to Person A, and Person A might gain a reputation for being “difficult to work with.”

Critical inner speech can impact your ability to find positive resolutions and can cause you to spiral into a pile of negativity that makes you incapable of acknowledging that success is an option, creating a self-fulfilling prophesy of doom. And in really bad cases, it can lead to life-threatening depression.

So do yourself a favor. The first time your inner two-year-old crosses his/her arms, pouts out the lip and says NO, you tell that kid to shut the hell up.  Then seek some positivity in your life – a coworker, a spouse/partner, a close friend, a sympathetic dog, wine. Whatever it is, help change the story you’re telling into something good.

Even two-year-olds grow out of their tantrums and laugh again. If they can do it, so can you.

Positive anything is better than negative nothing.
– Elbert Hubbard